Creating Defensible Space Around Homes

Notes From 04/01/2019 FireWise Meeting in Prospect Heights, Santa Cruz:

 Neighborhood walk-through with:

City of Santa Cruz Battalion Chief/Acting Fire Marshall Rob Young,  City of Santa Cruz Urban Forester Leslie Keedy;  City Councilmember Chris Krohn, in attendance

Per Battalion Chief Rob Young:

  • Wildfire prevention through Vegetation Management,
    • The Fire Department manages vegetation on open land by cutting back “ladder fuels,” the first 10’ – 15’ of vegetation from the ground, because “laddering” fuels spread fires up into the crowns of trees
    • This spring the Fire Dept. created a 100’ fuel reduction setback on the service road bounding Delaveaga Park and Prospect Heights, with contracts with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Cal Fire (great improvement—many thanks!)
    • To assist with the allocation of Cal Fire crews, “sponsors” are required to act as observers for the crews. Neighbors can help the Fire Department by becoming certified for this role with a half-day training.
      • Next training April 10 in Ben Lomond; for more information contact Dianna Adams,
  • Wildfire behavior:
    • Fires usually mover UPHILL, except in cases of severe wind events / fire “tornadoes,” etc., which may drive fires in atypical ways.
    • Ember cast
      • ”—flaming embers—are a very common way that fires spread to structures. In big fires, they can travel for miles and ignite structures. We need to make our homes safe from these embers.
  • Preventive measures for homes:
    • Placing wire screens over windows, attic vents, or any potential entry point in a home will block flaming embers.
    • Removing flammable debris, e.g. trash, leaves, items around home and attached outdoor decks, will help protect homes from flaming embers.
    • Double-paned windows are more protective than single-paned. If the outer pane cracks due to heat from a fire, the inner pane may hold.
      • (note: vinyl window frames can melt or deform from the heat of a fire, letting the glass panes fall out. Metal frames are best.)
    • Dead leaves & dry debris in roof gutters are very vulnerable to ember cast. Clearing gutters in spring and fall, and putting screens on top of gutters can be very effective in preventing this.
    • PG&E is working on how to shut down grids in case of fires. It is challenging, because it is a complex job to restore power once danger has passed. Crews have to go in and check all lines before electricity can be turned back on.
  • Evacuation measures:
    • Fire Chief Hajduk is reviewing ways to make evacuation information and the setting up of fire zones more accessible to the public;
    • How to receive emergency notifications via Reverse 911 calls:
      • you must register your cell phone # in order to be called. Go to the website org , click on Code Red, and put in your cell phone #.
    • In the case of evacuation, it is best to close all windows. Consider leaving door(s) unlocked, to facilitate fire personnel’s entry if necessary.
      • (Recommended but optional: If FD has to break down a door, there will be no way to re-seal the entry to protect the home when they move on.)

Per Urban Forester Leslie Keedy:

  • What you can do to create defensible space around your home:
    • Remove any plants that are in contact with the house, anything that will catch fire easily.
    • Irrigated plants are less hazardous because they hold moisture, but keep any dead foliage cut back from contact with structures.
    • Trees should be have their lower limbs pruned up to at least 6’ from the ground to remove “ladder fuels”
    • Create “fuel breaks” around your home by leaving open spaces between landscape plants and being sure no dead, dry, or flammable plants are near the structure.
    • Cut back any plants touching or near the structure by at least 6 feet.

Per Councilmember Chris Krohn:

  • Further protection, re home construction codes / fire proofing or resistance,
    • Chief Young noted that in the Paradise fire last year, there was only about a 3% survival rate of older homes. Newer homes, built under more stringent codes, had about a 13% survival rate.
  • Councilmember Krohn said he would look into more stringent housing codes.

Per Firewise host Abby Young:

  • May 4 is Wildfire Preparation Day.
    • The Firewise groups will be talking with the City and County to help raise awareness on this day, and to plan events city- and county-wide.
    • We are planning neighborhood yard clean-ups on this, and the The Highland Firewise Group is looking into grant funding for dumpsters.
      • Note: Volunteer hours logged through a Firewise group can qualify as equivalent funding in some cases.


Special thanks to Pauline Seales, the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network for making a page available on their website for Firewise: , and to Elizabeth Quinn for this report.